When the Leon County School Board rejected two charter school applications earlier this year, it was seen as pushback against what critics say are efforts to erode traditional public schools. Now the issue is making its way into local races. School board candidates are weighing in on the move, and the larger issue of how much school choice there should be, and at what expense?
Former teacher Alva Striplin is up for re-election this year. She won her seat four years ago amid investigations into cronyism at the Leon County School District. Since then, Striplin says she’s pleased to see teacher salaries go up and district officials pay more attention to financing. Yet she’s also growing wary of charter schools that don’t get results. And she cites last year’s closure of the Imagine Charter School.
“$25 million was pulled out of the public system and sent to Imagine," she says, and "in many different measures they failed. Those kids returned to the public system having fallen behind and creating an issue for our teachers to get them caught up. We sent public taxpayer money to fund private property. So the school board this year, under my leadership, we took a stance.”
The Leon County School Board reject two new charter school proposals.
The privately-run yet publicly funded schools have seen their stake grow with support from the Republican led legislature, which has created even more ways for them to expand. The latest is mandating that public schools that get consecutive D’s and F’s have to consider converting into charter schools, which is the situation Leon’s Oakridge and Pineview Elementary Schools are in. Former Department of Education employee Patty Ball Thomas argues charters aren’t the answer.
“I do believe there are different ways to teach children and I don’t feel one size fits all," she says. "But my concern is that if we’re taking funds earmarked for public schools to fund those choices, we’re trying to destroy the public school system that we’ve known it for years.”
But Leon County administrator and fellow contender Ricky Bell takes a more nuanced view of the issue, and says, “If a charter school can prove themselves sustainable and productive—a choice is good for parents. I believe competition raises the bar for everybody and many times that may raise the bar for us.”
The candidates discussed the issue during Wednesday’s Perspectives show on WFSU. They’re vying to for the Leon County School Board District 1 Seat.